Character will remain a buzzword for the Kings as they move into the offseason, and the team has at least one noteworthy free agent who fits the culture Vlade Divac vows to build.
The team’s general manager said he’d like to have veteran small forward Rudy Gay, who can opt out of his contract and become a free agent, back with the Kings next season.
Divac and Kings coach Dave Joerger addressed the media Thursday afternoon at Golden 1 Center to discuss the 2016-17 season and the plan going forward as the team finished its 11th consecutive losing season Wednesday with a 32-50 record.
Losing Gay would magnify the Kings’ hole at small forward they never could adequately fill after Gay went down with a ruptured Achilles’ tendon Jan. 18.
Divac and Joerger spoke highly of Gay’s character Thursday.
“His personality, when we talk about who’s going to fit on this team, he’s exactly what we’re looking for,” Divac said.
The Kings would have to prove to Gay that the team is what he’s looking for, too.
The Kings are in the midst of a massive youth movement, the kind of situation veterans longing to return to the postseason tend to avoid.
As for the youthful Kings, they took their lumps on the court but Divac was pleased with the effort.
Divac said he was “happy” with how the Kings finished the season after trading DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans. The Kings went 8-17 after dealing their best player, but Divac said the way the team played gives him reason to be optimistic.
“They played the right way,” Divac said. “They played as a team, they worked hard.”
Divac praised Joerger and the coaching staff in guiding the young players in the final months.
This is the first year we worked together and every day is better and better. ... I think he’s a great coach and I saw exactly what I saw in him this summer when I hired Dave to join us. He shares the same values and the same way of basketball.
on coach Dave Joerger
The Kings gave three rookies – Buddy Hield, Skal Labissiere and George Papagiannis – consistent minutes late in the season to go with second-year center Willie Cauley-Stein. Rookie shooting guard Malachi Richardson was also playing more before suffering a partially torn hamstring in a loss to the Golden State Warriors on Feb. 15.
“This is the first year we worked together and every day is better and better,” Divac said of Joerger. “Like I said, I’m so happy to work with him. I think he’s a great coach and I saw exactly what I saw in him this summer when I hired Dave to join us. He shares the same values and the same way of basketball.”
Joerger said the transition from a team with a lot of veterans to playing a young team focused on building for the future did not make his relationship with Divac closer as they worked through the process.
“I think we were pretty tight anyway,” Joerger said. “You’re going to go through things, but us being together – rock solid from day one – has been very good.”
Ben McLemore, who will become an unrestricted free agent July 1, is another veteran Joerger said he would welcome back. There’s also the prospect of bringing in another shooting guard next season – Serbian Bogdan Bogdanovic.
The Kings own the draft rights to Bogdanovic following a draft-day trade with Phoenix last June. He is playing in the Turkish Basketball Super League.
Divac said Bogdanovic is a “natural shooting guard” who can play more than one position.
“We would love to have him here. We have his rights, and this summer we’ll talk about it.”
The Kings are already pretty well stocked at shooting guard. Hield was the key player acquired from the Pelicans in the Cousins trade. Richardson, who missed the final 25 games after his hamstring injury, is also a guard.
The Kings will need to address their point guard situation with Darren Collison and Ty Lawson both being unrestricted free agents. On Thursday, Divac said it was “too early to say” if the Kings will attempt to bring those veterans back. Another veteran – shooting guard Tyreke Evans, who got a second stint in Sacramento in the Cousins trade – is also an unrestricted free agent.
Divac also did not rule out adding to the front office. Assistant general manager Ken Catanella was added last offseason.
“We’re open, always, to improve,” Divac said. “The team, the front office, everything is always open for improvement. I’m very happy and confident in what we have right now, but we should be open if something can make you better.”